Power and Love
February 14, 2012
Updated February 27, 2014
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“What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
Power removed from love is, as Martin Lurther King, Jr. stated, “reckless and abusive.” Trace back almost any story of abuse – whether in churches, families, institutions, or society – and you will find corrupted power, a deadly force.
On the other hand, says King, love without power is “anemic.” It’s like the abused spouse who, acting out of love for her partner, tolerates unspeakable physical and emotional harm and ends up broken beyond repair. Although intended for good, love without power is destructive as well.
In his book Power and Love: A Theory and Practice of Social Change, best-selling author Adam Kahane points out that to create new social realities, we have to work with “two distinct fundamental forces that are in tension: power and love."* Kahane relies on theologian Paul Tillich’s definition of these terms to make his case, where power is “the drive of everything living to realize itself, with increasing intensity…” and love is “the drive toward the unity of the separated."*
When understood in these ways, “power and love are therefore exactly complimentary,” writes Kahane. “In order for each to achieve its full potential, it needs the other.”** Just because the two stand in tension does not mean they cannot act in harmony. This reminds me of God’s act of love for us in Jesus Christ, “whose power was made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).
In the church and in Christian families, we talk a lot about love but power not so much. Power is a God-given force, the drive without which no system can survive. Power won’t and can’t go away. By not talking about power, we have allowed it – at times – to operate independently of love. The consequences of power acting without love are all too well known. Many among us bear the scars.
It’s time to change our conversations and to stop choosing between power and love. Instead, let’s explore new ways of living together that encompass both. Along the way, we may just find that sweet spot, somewhere in between, where wholeness and fullness of life are restored, where peace and justice flourish.
*Adam Klahane, Power and Love: A Theory and Practice of Social Change, pg. 2 (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2010)
**Ibid, pg. 7
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The mark of God's Kingdom is selfless love, using power in service to others rather than for selfish gain. Jesus is our example in Philippians 2. Though he has infinite power, he came down, humbled himself, became human, not to "lord it over us", but to love and to give his life as a ransom for many. In sharp contrast, the kingdom of this world uses power for it's own purposes, for selfish gain. You can see the difference when you look; it's the way to recognize the Kingdom of God. Our light shines in the surrounding darkness, and our Lord is glorified, as we follow the humble way of Jesus that consideres others before ourselves, using power in love. There is no place for abuse in this model.
I'm so very thankful that our God is all-powerful AND all-loving; and His Son has shown us what that looks like.
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